Tag Archives: Synaesthesia

Vale Chris Cornell

For me the human voice in song is one of life’s greatest pleasures. For synaesthetes enjoyable experiences are often coloured. Many but not all voices of popular singers have specific colours, in my experience: men’s voices typically brown, women’s red, baritones deep brown, counter-tenors and falsetto yellows and whites, harsh Italian tenors shining gold, but there was only ever for me one orange singing voice – that of Chris Cornell, the late singer of Soundgarden and Audioslave fame. Orange is the colour of experiences that are so intense that they are close to painful.

Does fascinating advice from a super-polyglot utilize a psychological effect unknown to science?

Tell me about your key technique for learning a new language, and how it works

I call it shadowing. I shadow the audio of the target language by listening to it through earphones and speaking along with it as fast as I possibly can. I’ve found the best way to do this is while walking outdoors as swiftly as possible, maintaining a perfectly upright posture and speaking loudly. [and he goes on to further discuss]

Hooper, Rowan You had me at halla. New Scientist. Issue 3110 January 28 2017 p.42-43.


This is advice from Alexander Arguelles, who can speak around 50 languages, so it is definitely advice to take seriously. The part of the advice that interests me is the walking fast with an upright posture. This implies that bodily perceptions or perceptions of the position/location of the body in space, and movement, are important in boosting learning. This part of the advice fits in nicely with a phenomenon that I’ve described in at least one previous post in this blog, years ago, in which vection or actual physical bodily movement through space (in the form of walking outdoors while looking around) seems to evoke a cascade of thought, or somehow add fluency or speed to the normal train of thought (which could be described as the stream of consciousness or daydreaming). This effect is important to me (a super-recognizer synaesthete in a family that seems to have a gene for ease of learning languages and spelling) because I’ve found that when walking or driving a vehicle I get useful and creative and novel ideas that don’t happen when I’m not doing such activities. I also find that taking a shower (indoors!) has a similar effect, and I think the link to the outdoor activities is that parts of the brain that deal with bodily movement and visual-spatial perception are activated. I’ve observed that outdoor visual perception of movement through space or actual movement seem to promote thought or creativity, while it appears that Mr Arguelles has observed that this kind of experience promotes learning. As I’m a synaesthete who is interested in synaesthesia (specifically types involving visual memory and links between visual memory and conceptual thinking) I’ve suggested that this is actually a type of synaesthesia – experiences as one type of stimuli (visual-spatial) triggering or promoting, inside the brain, experiences of a very different type (language learning, combining discrete abstract concepts in thought). I don’t adhere to the idea that there’s a very sharp demarcation between synaesthetes and non-synaesthetes, but nevertheless, I’d be very interested to know whether Mr Arguelles is a synaesthete. Certainly there’s lots of evidence linking synaesthesia with superior memory, which a super-learner such as Mr Arguelles must surely possess.

Is the effect that I’ve identified and described embodied cognition? Is it a type of synaesthesia, enjoyed only by a minority of the population? Is it both? Neither? Has it already been described and named in the scientific literature? I don’t know. Does it need a name of it’s own? Visual-spatial stimuli-boosted cognition?

Lorde and other top musicians see music in colour

Yes, it is synaesthesia. No it ISN’T a disorder, or bizarre, or cross-wiring, or an affliction…..

The New Daily  journalist does indeed very much deserve to have his article bombarded by angry comments from offended synaesthetes. It isn’t clear why he is reporting this story now as it appears that Lorde having synaesthesia is old news from 2015. Interesting anyway.






Ed Kuepper 2016 performance at MONA features a backdrop that resembles musical synaesthesia

Those arty people at the Museum of Old and New Art in Tasmania are right into synaesthesia.

1 is white and E is yellow.


A Swiss psychiatrist made to look an ass by synaesthete kids. I love it.


A. Reichard, G., Jakobson, R., & Werth, E. (1949). Language and synesthesia. Word, 5(2), 224-233.



Pop singer Alessia Cara describes her synaesthesia experiences on The Project

Alessia Cara. The Project. Ten Network. February 27th 2017.




Artistic talent and super-recognition?

I’ve had my nose in books, as I do, and I’ve read that some great artists had very “vivid” visual memory, which would presumably be a different thing to creativity. Names such as Toulouse-Lautrec and Michelangelo have been cited. So this made me wonder whether I have or once had a level of artistic talent to match my excellent visual memory for faces. I’m not a visual artist. I don’t do visual art as a hobby even. I do enjoy taking photos, but nothing technical or fancy. I do enjoy creating things. I enjoy working with colour. I love going to visual arts events, as you can see from my blog. But I don’t think anyone would identify me as an artist. As a child, I think perhaps people would have. Children are encouraged to express themselves in visual art, and I obliged, as did most kids, and I also enjoyed art enough to do it in my own time at home. I did art as a year 12 subject and enjoyed it but didn’t take it hugely seriously. Perhaps being myopic but never identified as such during my school years limited my ability to draw. Perhaps my ability or interest in art is attributable to my synaesthesia, independent of my face memory ability.

Unlike so many aspects of my childhood, I remember,  in striking detail and vividness, creating art as a young child.  I remember the colours and the names of colours in a large watercolour set given to me as a young child. I remember drawing the intricate wrinkles of my own hand with the other hand at home. I remember the colours of my pencils in grade 1, and the colours of the little dyed wooden shapes we were given to learn about numbers. I remember being laughed at in grade 1 when I showed the class a painting I did at home using perspective. I remember thinking at the time that my classmates were idiots. I remember the simple joy of looking at things, even tiny things or objects of no particular importance to most people. I remember being fascinated and entranced by the structures and colours of found objects such as bird feathers and sea shells. I remember discovering that beach sand is made up of grains that can have striking and vastly different colours: dark brown, bright orange, magenta, white, transparent like glass. As a young lady I got decent marks in art in year 12 and I think my art reflected an ability or a willingness to simply draw what I saw, rather than reproducing some abstract idea of what I thought a tree or a vase should look like. My art teacher said I had ability but failed to develop it, and I think that probably sums the story of my artistic talent.

Are you a super-recogniser? Are you also an artist? Are you a super who is utterly lacking in artistic ability? What do you think? What do you know?

Kinetic 2017 by Orbital

Visual/musical effects in this video clip are a lot like synaesthesia evoked by music. This kind of effect is found quite often in music clips, especially for electronic music, and this type of synaesthesia seems to be one of the more common types, both in terms of how many people experience it and how often it is experienced by individuals. Contrary to what some researchers seem to believe, synaesthesia is not a constant experience. Specific cognitive or sensory stimuli, either from one’s own thoughts or from the world around evoke synaesthesia, and at least for me, not everything that I experience is a synaesthesia inducer, but nothing evokes synaesthesia like good music or interesting music.

Interesting letter from last year re acquired prosopagnosia and the uncanny valley

Editor’s pick: Excluded from the uncanny valley
From Bob Cockshott

New Scientist. Issue 3100. November 19th 2016. p.60.


The experience described in the letter seems to suggest that there is more to face recognition than simple memory or faces, or could it be that there are aspects of the perception of faces in particular that make them especially memorable? Faces are easy to personify because they are usually found on people. Perhaps it is the ability to detect the person behind the face that has become amiss in the letter’s author following his stroke, and maybe this ability feeds into face memory? Such a relationship would explain the author’s inability to notice the uncanny valley, and it would also explain why a personifying synaesthete like myself is also a super-recognizer.



I’ve had a read of the interesting article by Laura Spinney that this letter was a comment about, and I think the Perceptual Mismatch Theory of the Uncanny Valley Effect probably offers a more plausible explanation of my a prosopagnosic might be unable to detect the uncanny valley than the competing Category Uncertainty Theory. The article explained the two theories and evidence supporting them. To summarise, the CUT explains the UVE as the result of confusion about what type of thing one is looking at (for example robot or human?), while the PMT explains the UVE as resulting from unease or perceptual confusion when different features or parts of the thing or being viewed have dissimilar levels of human-like appearance (for example the face and skin look realistic but the eyes do not move like human eyes). I think the case of a prosopagnosic not detecting the UVE when people with normal face perception do is support for the PMT theory rather than the other because as far as I know, prosopagnosia does not involve inability to classify faces or bodies as human or non-human, while I believe there is evidence supporting the idea that prosopagnosia can be the result of not being able to perceptually integrate the features of the face as a whole that is recognizable as a unique or distinctive mix of many attributes and features. A non-prosopagnosic person should be able to perceive a face or body as a whole made up of parts, and notice if one or more elements has a level of humanity that does not match other parts, as in the PMT, while a prosopagnosic might not. Of course, research is needed to investigate my armchair speculations.

Thoughts sometimes turn to food with synaesthesia

Whenever I see the colours chocolate brown and forest green together, in any context, that makes me think of the taste and mouth-feel of chocolate with mint brittle or mint cracknel, as exemplified by the Peppermint Crisp bar:


Whenever I see the colours forest green and white together, in any context, I think of Kool Mints which I believe were produced in those colours when I was a child. I can even get this effect through grapheme-colour synaesthesia triggered by numbers. For example, the street number of a house that I once lived in evokes the concept of Kool Mints.

Whenever is see one of those cute, rounded, new but retro-styled cars with perfect glossy paint in a brownish tint, it makes me think of flavoured rice-cream or some other flavoured milky desert in the applicable flavour for the colour, such as caramel ricecream, coffee cream desert, chocolate ricecream etc.


On the odd occasion when I’m near a helicopter and hear its engine at close range, or hear one operating under a load, that sound makes me think of the uniquely wonderful smell of a steak and onion pie.